Everything’s Better With Friends?
The Texas Democrats lack a central figure or group, but their teamwork approach seems to be working
Sometimes, however rarely, stories kind of read like movie scripts. (And with the stunning lack of good movies this summer, I think we can all be thankful for that. Trust me, I just saw The A-Team.)
Take yesterday. One campaign (let’s call them Parry) has set up an attack on enemy turf. They’re holding a press conference at their rival’s local headquarters in Austin to accuse him of profiteering from natural disasters. They’ve sent out press advisory and they’re feeling pretty good about their day’s work.
Suddenly, only a a couple hours beforehand, the other campaign hears about it. Let’s call them the Beige campaign. They spring into action. You guessed it—it’s montage time!
White—er, Beige—spokesperson Katy Bacon is working merrily in her office (well, as merrily as campaign people can be) when she hears the news. Immediately she calls—not just campaign workers, but various other groups. They’re used to working together and they come to a decision: They’re going to throw together a rival event. In an hour.
Someone sets up a Facebook page. Someone calls Rep. Mark Strama, who happens to be holding a how-to-campaign class. Phillip Martin over at the Texas Democratic Trust runs over to the headquarters, where he decides to liveblog the entire event on the lefty website Burnt Orange Report. Matt Glazer, a BOR editor and a Democratic consultant, starts corralling the Strama campaigners, helping them make signs and the like. Democratic Party spokesperson Kirsten Gray arrives to manage the press. And finally, a guy in a chicken suit shows up to ensure support.
The results: full blown anti-Parry chants, press coverage for the White/Beige campaign and a bit of an embarrassment for Parry spokesman Mark Minor whose attack was drowned out by demands for a debate.
“It was a seamless united front to say Rick Perry needs to stop having political fronts, trying to distract,” said Bacon. (She meant Parry, of course.)
End montage. I swear it would make a better movie than the second hour of A-Team. (So. Bad.)
The level of coordination wasn’t just luck: The coalition of Democratic groups are on the phone every week, determining messaging and working together. (According to Texas Democratic Trust leader Matt Angle, they only talk state elections, because of federal laws on campaign coordination.) “In most other contested states, you have a Democrat who is a statewide office holder who tends to be kind of the alpha candidate,” says Angle. Since there isn’t a single statewide Democrat, Texas is left with the betas, and they’ve got to work together.
“We’re sort of aware constantly of what’s going on and then contributing where we can have an impact,” says Glazer, one of the Democratic wunderkinds who’s the “G” in GNI strategies.
GNI Strategies were the ones who came up with the Evict Rick campaign, a game effort back when the official campaign was still focused on Bill White family photos. The state party, meanwhile, worked on The Other 49 Percent, a site focused on the Republican primary voters who didn’t vote for Perry.
The Perry campaign, by contrast, does its own messaging. The governor’s position and his political capital drive much of the Republican campaign effort. Other conservative groups, like Empower Texas and Tea Party Patriot groups, are as concerned with shifting the ideological bent of the GOP as much as they are about winning. As a party, there are clearly some internal leadership struggles: They ousted the incumbent party chair at last week’s convention.
Because there are several Dem groups all about winning, each one can send out press releases and do events that emphasize the same message. “Obviously you reinforce message,” says Angle, “and it’s being able to share information in a productive way.”
Eventually the White campaign began their own fun approach, complete with cartoon ads and giving Bill White hair for his birthday. It’s certainly more appealing than their earlier, sepia-toned images of Bill White.
In the coalition Texas Democrats rely on, Glazer says, “age is not synonymous with experience and good ideas are almost always seen and rewarded.” But he’s careful about the level of coordination. “We’re real aware of the gray area that we work in,” he says. “So we don’t talk necessarily in specifics all that often.”
Still, Glazer says, “every single person that was in that building yesterday has worked together” in the past.
According to state party spokesperson Kirsten Gray, that’s the easiest party. “We are bringing in the talents, the specific talents, of many people,” she says, and it’s easier to divide up skills.
“It got real easy real quick to walk in and know what to do,” Glazer said of yesterday’s effort.
But that doesn’t mean there can’t be turf wars. Don’t look for Matt Angle at the state party convention next week. Despite heading one of the major and best-funded Democratic groups, he tells me it’s best if the party has the spotlight. “I’ve already added what I can,” he says. “I don’t know what my presence adds to it.”